“Assumptions are made that everyone should know how to run one of these things. But the reality is it’s not intuitive.”
– GLEN BLAHEY, MAFRI PROVINCIAL FARM SAFETY CO-ORDINATOR
Dawna Sloane smiles when talking about it now. But she wasn’t smiling then.
It was fall and she was needed to drive the grain truck. She’d delivered a load to the yard, and was driving back to the field. Something was wrong.
“I’d forgotten to put the box down,” she says, still incredulous at her oversight.
Fortunately, no harm was done, except the hit to Sloane’s confidence. “I’d done this often enough, I thought I should know,” the Clearwater-area farm partner says. “I’m not sure how I didn’t roll the truck.”
Like Sloane, many farm women are called to drive farm equipment during the busiest times of year. Most of the time, they do their jobs competently and incident free.
But there’s also near misses or actual mishaps, which jangle nerves, make tempers flare, or put self and others and property at serious risk. That’s when women often say they wish they knew more about the equipment they run.
It was the incident with the hoist, plus a new combine purchase for their farm that prompted Sloane to look for training beyond what she’d had from her own experience on the farm.
JUNE 6 COURSE
Sloane signed up for a one-day MAFRI-hosted women-only workshop on safe operations of farm equipment offered last year, and plans to be at its repeat this year.
The course was developed in response to concerns voiced by farm partners over the last few years that those operating farm equipment may not always be familiar with it, says MAFRI’s provincial farm safety co-ordinator Glen Blahey. That’s especially the case when a new farm partner has no previous background in agriculture.
At the same time, farmers say it can be tough teaching something they, themselves, know so well. “Assumptions are made that everyone should know how to run one of these things,” says Blahey. “But the reality is it’s not intuitive.”
The MAFRI course tries to cover what that few minutes on the yard, or that half-hour’s instruction in the field, usually does not.
The course’s focus is on safe tractor operations, so participants learn more about a tractor’s physical characteristics, such as centre of gravity and stability. They also learn the principles of safely hitching and attaching to implements. PTOs and proper way to hook up hydraulic hoses are covered, as is basic equipment maintenance.
Blahey said participants will also get some hands-on experience this year driving a tractor with a pulled implement through an obstacle course. That will include doing a pre-operational inspection, hooking a tractor to a piece of towed equipment, proceeding through a course, backing up into a virtual garage then returning through the course and unhooking.
Ultimately, the course aims to help these women do their jobs as safely as possible.
“The safety of the person operating a piece of equipment is only determined by their knowledge and understanding of the equipment,” said Blahey.
Sloane, who grew up on a farm and is often helping during haying and harvest, knows that. The difficulty for women like herself stems from not regularly operating farm equipment, she said. You’re called upon to do a job during times when every-one’s under stress and there’s little time to ask questions. Plus, there’s an assumption you should be able to just jump in and do the job.
“But if you’re not in it all the time, it’s hard to jump back in and remember what to do,” she says. “You don’t have the reflexes automatically.”
She recommends the MAFRI course. It was especially helpful to hear other women talk about their own experiences, Sloane says.
“A lot of women wanted to be able to drive things but are having trouble getting the guidance needed to feel comfortable driving them,” she said. “It helps to have a refresher.”
Historically, fewer women and girls have been injured or killed at farm work, but farm women’s direct involvement with farm work is increasing.
The Canadian Agricultural Injury Surveillance Program (CAISP), which monitors and documents fatalities and injuries on farms across Canada since 1990, has recommended that more education and training be offered to women to emphasize the dangers of operating farm machinery.
The most common cause of farm-related deaths among women are animal related, but women are also killed in bystander runovers, as well as in collisions, rollovers and extra-rider runovers.
Tractor Safety Training for Women will be held from 9 a. m. to 5 p. m. June 6 at Greenvalley Equipment Inc. on Hwy. 3 east of Winkler. For more information contact Lavonne Kroeker at 319-0387 or Jacquie Cherewayko 324-2804. Registration deadline is May 29 and space is limited. The course can be offered at other locations on request.